Things to Read - Books for Kids About Thanksgiving & Native Americans
As far as holidays go, I'm starting to find Thanksgiving somewhat tricky. On one hand, it's my husband's absolute favorite holiday (he has an adorably cheesy attachment to traditional food and family gatherings). On the other hand, the girls are old enough to ask tough questions about the holiday's origins. Let me approximate one conversation:
P - "So mom, are we going to have Indians at our Thanksgiving?"
F - "No, P, people just PRETEND to be Indians at Thanksgiving. In real life the cowboys kicked all the Indians out of their homes and made them walk so far that they died. Mom, why did the cowboys wear funny hats?"
me - "um, well, actually the pilgrims were the ones with the funny hats. And the cowboys weren't always mean to the Indians, they were just sometimes mean to them. But, sadly, the majority of Indians did die. And now we try to use the term native americans."
F- "So the people with the funny hats were nice to the Indians but then the cowboys came and killed everybody? and what's a native american? Can we invite an indian over for dinner or are they all dead now? Is Pocahontas dead?"
P - "No Pocahontas can't be dead. I saw her on TV. She's so beautiful. I want to be just like her when I become a princess."
F - "P, that wasn't real. That was a cartoon. Things on cartoons aren't real. Pocahontas is dead, the cowboys killed her. Plus, you are born a princess, you don't become a princess. But where are the pilgrims?"
P - "Mommy, F just said I can't be a princess. Tell her she's wrong. When we have an Indian at Thanksgiving can he make me a princess?"
At this point, I tried to change the topic and rushed home to research children's books on native americans and the history of Thanksgiving (as you probably know from reading this blog, books are my answer to all of life's problems). Here's what I found (you can click on the book's thumbnail to link to amazon):
Books about Native Americans for Preschoolers
This book reads like an encyclopedia for children, lots of facts. It covers several different Indian tribes, presenting unique facts about each one. The girls really love looking at the pictures and talking about all the different types of houses and activities. This lead to one of my favorite P quotes ever, "look mom, the Indians even have children. And they play with toys. Just like me." (did she really think they didn't have children?). All in all, this book has been quite a success, we read it almost every night. While it dedicates a few sentences to explaining that Europeans and Indians "fought over land, and many people died . . . [t]he Indians tribes lost most of their land to the settlers," it doesn't make much an effort to explain what happened to the indians (i.e. why there are so few left).
Although the typeset is large and most of the pages have pictures, this book is still MUCH longer (78 pages) than the books my kids usually read. Nevertheless, the girls really seem to like it, probably because it answers so many of their questions - such as: if you were a Cherokee: Would you go to school? What would you celebrate? What jobs would you do? How would you get your name? And, most importantly, it addresses "What happened to the Cherokee when the United States was formed?" AND "What was the Trail of Tears?" As the book explains, "When the Cherokee refused to move, the United States sent 7,000 soldiers to force them out. The soldiers dragged families from their homes, not giving them time to gather their belongings. The Cherokees stood helplessly watching as new settlers took over their homes. They were then forced to live in special fenced camps where many died from filthy conditions." Depressing stuff, but, I believe it's important for my kids to learn the truth about native american history, so I'm glad this book has provided a starting point for us to talk about it. (And, yes, when my kids are old enough, I also plan to read this book to/with them - A Young People's History of the United States, Vol. 1: Columbus to the Spanish-American War).
This book just came in the mail (you have to love Amazon prime - which is free for moms right now), so we haven't had a chance to try any of the activities. But I'm really excited. Most of the projects appear manageable, including rattles, games, different food items, and "things to wear." But I'm most excited to create miniature tepees, pueblo villages, and wigmams - i could see these working well for our paper doll family.
Books About Thanksgiving for Preschoolers
First of all, the author wrote this book in 1954, so keep that in mind. The text is a little long-winded (we paraphrase a lot when reading it), but the author does a good job of explaining the tribulations of pilgrim life. As summarized by F, "mom, why do you keep buying us books where lots of people die?" And the book tries, somewhat, to demonstrate the complicated relationship between indians and pilgrims - were they friends? Well, sometimes. My favorite sentence:"Massasoit promised to be friendly. When his people came to Plymouth they would not bring bows and arrows with them. The promise of friendship was kept fifty years." No mention is made of what happened at the end of the fifty years.
This book is best for YOUNGER children. The writing is bare bones (not many words), but the illustrations are wonderful. At the book's end, the illustrator explains that she researched clothes, table manners, dishes, utensils, hairstyles, etc. of the Wampanoag and Pilgrims. My children really like to look at the pictures and ask questions (many of which the author answers in a "Note From the Author" at the book's end). I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this one.
What about everyone else? I'm really struggling with how best to explain the history of native americans to my children, so any and all suggestions/advice are appreciated. I'm really sad that we missed this festival, but hopefully the National American Indian Museum will host more throughout the year.